It is Pennsylvania in the 1870s. Sixteen-year-old Clara lives with her sort-of sister Maren and kind-of Aunt Verity. In fact, Maren arrived at Verity’s door in a seashell, while Maren was delivered by a stork, and Verity kindly adopted them both. They live happily and the two sisters adore each other, but annoyingly Maren seems to be turning into a mermaid. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?
Although Clara is desperate not to lose her sister, her transition to mermaid is happening quickly. She is growing scales, her legs are merging and she needs to be kept wet at all times. So Clara and childhood friend / sort-of brother O’Neill (that’s another story) decide they have to take her to the ocean to live with the merpeople. But on their journey they are kidnapped by a travelling circus run by the despotic Dr Phipps and his bonkers wife Sorana, and their lecherous son Jasper. Again, annoying and rather inconvenient.
This book is a strange but beguiling mix of fantasy, love story and historical fiction that I think is appropriate for pre-teens – but also works well for older readers that are willing to suspend disbelief for the course of the novel! I’m usually not really into fantasy but I did find myself enjoying this novel rather a lot – it is very easy to read and the story is sweet and interesting, with characters ranging from the angelic and delightful to mad and evil. It’s quite a descriptive book and you find yourself really picturing the scene, from the tiny mermaid living in a jar, to the caravan filled with riches from around the world.
If you fancy a bit of escapism and don’t mind a blast of fantasy (did I mention there is also a pet dragon in the story?), then I would recommend this, especially for 11-12 year olds that may still like a touch of magic to their reading material. It is well written and fun to read, and it made me change my mind about fantasy books, which I would usually assume I wouldn’t enjoy.